Written by Matthew Gan, Director - Tax, KPMG
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” – Matthew 25:35-36
In Retreat Four of The NZ Leadership Programme, we were challenged around how we might create a more civil society – exploring deep topics such as ethics, values, current social issues, and who benefits in our country and who doesn’t. I feel more aware and alert to some of these issues now, but the scale and complexity of the problems threaten to overwhelm. That said, I am inspired by learning from the many people in our group (and beyond) that make a deep contribution to address some of the social issues that we face in this country.
Here are some snapshots of my memories from this Retreat:
Click. I am sitting in the darkness of the cabin of the plane, halfway to Auckland. I am a silent mixture of sadness and frustration. I have just finished reading the Family 100 Project: Demonstrating the Complexities of Being Poor: An Empathy Tool. If you have ever wondered what life looks (and feels) like for someone struggling to make ends meet in New Zealand, this is essential reading.
Click. I am standing in Griffiths Garden on a beautiful day in the Auckland CBD. The community flowerbeds provide an opportunity to peacefully garden in the city while the community fridge allows people to leave food for others. It is a perfect backdrop to explore social issues together. I am listening to a young student on her work break share her thoughts on some of the social issues that this country is facing from homelessness to mental health. I take heart that these are matters that the youth of today care about.
Click. I am receiving a glimpse of a wide range of social issues in a meeting room at AUT. Whether the postcode you grow up in impacts your life opportunities. The void that youth suicide leaves in our society. How trauma experienced in one generation flows down to impact future generations. The stories are real. The people matter. I am touched. I am moved. I am reminded that every voice counts.
Click. I am sitting in a communal space at AUT. Pat Snedden is sharing some of his thoughts and experiences in humbly and powerfully advocating against institutional racism. Pat asks us to look around – our group represents something of the ethnic diversity of New Zealand. “You can be the vanguard of shift and change if you choose to be.” I am challenged.
Click. I am lying on the floor at home post-retreat. I start watching the K Road Chronicles: Stories of Homelessness. Six (the journalist-narrator) recounts how she used to sleep under a New Zealand flag to reduce the risk of someone urinating on her while she slept. Gloria (a homeless sex worker) shares how she has told young girls that sex work isn’t something that you want to get into – that you think that it doesn’t affect you, but it does. I am confronted by the tough circumstances that people find themselves in – that what can seem like a choice is not a choice at all.
One month has passed since Retreat Four, and I still don’t know what to make of it. Or perhaps, more accurately, what I can do to help in some small way.
If you look up the word ‘civil’ in the dictionary it says ‘courteous and polite’. But somehow that doesn’t seem enough. Yes, I want to live in a society that is courteous and polite. But I want something more than that. You see a polite society can still be a cold society. And we need more warmth, more kindness, and more (dare I say it) love. But it isn’t (and won’t be) easy.
“If I have an apprehension in New Zealand at the moment, it’s not because we’re not smart enough. It’s because we’re not courageous enough.” – Pat Snedden (2017)